"We can’t do that using the more typical wired sensing network because the cost of running the cables out to the field would be too expensive," he added.

Because wireless sensing networks are becoming commercially available, Tarpley said, his studies that monitor conditions such as soil moisture will eventually help farmers know how to use such a network to make crop management decisions.

While Tarpley’s research focuses on wireless monitoring during the growing season, another system has been developed for use during cotton harvest time, according to Dr. Alex Thomasson, AgriLife Research agricultural engineer.

Thomasson and two graduate students devised a wireless system that can pinpoint the location on the farm where each module of cotton grew. That’s important, he said, because a farmer can use the information to figure out why fiber quality differed on various acres.

"Cotton is taken to a gin to be baled. A sample from each bale is sent to a classing office to be measured for fiber quality," Thomasson explained. "The fiber quality results for each bale— along with the module number from which the bale came—are sent back to the gin and to the farmer for use in marketing the cotton and determining its price.

"We wanted to take that data and map it back to the field the cotton was grown in," Thomasson said. "That enabled us to look at areas of a given field where cotton of different quality comes from. The ultimate goal was to produce profit maps that show how much money is being made or lost on each portion of a field."

His team’s research, published in the journal Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, used wireless devices on the harvester, boll buggy and module builder to achieve 100 percent accuracy in tracking cotton to the place in a field where it grew. They call it the Wireless Module Tracking System.

"When a farmer knows the input costs across the field, from things such as fertilizer, then the data from the Wireless Module Tracking System can help determine the profitability of each portion of the field," he said. "It can also be used to determine the reason that a part of the field had poorer fiber quality, which caused them to lose money. Then they may decide to manage that part of the field differently to make more money next year."